As we explore projects where mySociety can help address the climate crisis, as an organisation we’ve also been trying to understand the carbon impact of our existing work.
Using Code for Australia’s carbon calculator as a really helpful guide and starting point, we’ve estimated mySociety’s 2019 and 2020 carbon footprints.
In 2019 this was 74 tonnes of CO2, and so far in 2020 it’s, as you’d expect in a year that includes several months of lockdown, substantially lower at around 23 tonnes.
It’s proving frustratingly difficult to place these figures in context: even while using their methodology, we can’t accurately compare the outcome to Code for Australia’s given their very different geographical situation and activities; and as a remote organisation where all employees work from home, our footprint is always going to be different from more conventional set-ups. If you think your organisation bears similarities to ours, and you’ve also calculated your emissions, please do let us know!
As for addressing our output, we are pushing a two pronged approach: we’ve already changed staff policies to encourage more sustainable working methods and to ensure a significant reduction in our future emissions; and, currently, having learned of disturbing failings in even the most-recommended offsetting services, we are researching where we might be able to make direct payments to mitigate the carbon we produce.
mySociety 2019 carbon footprint Item Total CO2 (metric tonnes) Percentage of total Flights 40.663 55.31% Accommodation 9.545 12.98% Ground transport 6.198 8.43% Electronics 0.695 0.95% Servers – manufacture 5.120 6.96% Servers – electricity 7.199 9.79% Laptop – manufacture 1.655 2.25% Laptop – electricity 0.475 0.65% Catering 1.967 2.68% Everything else 0.002 0.00% Total 73.56 100.00%
The biggest contribution to carbon expenditure in 2019 was travel. mySociety is a distributed organisation, with staff all around the UK. While on a daily basis that means very little commuting, we do (or did pre-COVID) meet up frequently in teams, and three to four times a year the entire organisation convenes in one place. International research contracts that require onsite interviews can mean long haul plane journeys, and travelling to the international events that we organise requires some air travel as well.
As an organisation we produced 47 tonnes of carbon in travel in 2019, with 75% produced by relatively few longhaul plane flights. The overall contribution of train travel is relatively low despite a large number of journeys (349). There were far fewer domestic plane journeys, but even so they accounted for almost as much carbon as train trips within the UKs.
Mode Journeys (one way) CO2 % C02 Total distance % Total distance Average C02 per journey Long distance plane 24 35,297 75% 73,201 63% 2,941 Short hop plane 31 5,366 11% 11,938 10% 298 Train 349 3,068 7% 24,035 21% 17 UK plane 15 2,156 5% 2,964 3% 270 Car 39 887 2% 1,359 1% 39 Bus 25 36 0% 397 0% 3 Eurostar 9 29 0% 1,830 2% 5 Grand total 492 46,839 100% 115,724 100% 181
While for obvious reasons our 2020 travel costs are much lower, we are keen to avoid a return to the ‘old normal’.
Over the last year, our policy towards ‘short’ plane journeys has changed. When staff do travel, if their destination can be reached within 7.5 hours door-to-door by train (or other forms of sustainable public transport) they should take this option rather than flying, except in mitigating circumstances around safety or accessibility.
Additionally, if staff choose low-carbon holiday travel they are entitled to claim additional annual leave, as part of mySociety’s involvement in the Climate Perks scheme.
Our wider environmental policy can be read on our website.
Image: Providence Doucet
That’s ARG as in ‘Anti-Racism Group’ — not exactly a backronym, but we definitely didn’t object to having this internal mySociety committee named after a cry of exasperation and frustration. The subject matter certainly warrants it.
Like many other organisations, we were inspired to make changes in response to the Black Lives Matter movement’s call for action this summer, sparked by the death of George Floyd. In mid-July we stated mySociety’s commitment to anti-racism and formed a working group, open to all employees to attend.
In many respects this has operated in the same way as our less snappily-titled Climate Action Group: fortnightly meetings in which members discuss and prioritise issues, educating ourselves and formulating policy to share with the organisation as a whole.
There’s plenty to tackle, from staff culture to HR and employment practices, the demographics who use our services and the research that still needs to be done. In all of these the question is the same: how can we do better to support other lives and experiences, especially Black experiences?
It’s a long journey and we’re not pretending that an hour a month is going to bring down systemic racism. But in the spirit that small actions add up to make a difference over time, here’s what we’ve done thus far:
- We’ve added a ‘Supporting diversity’ section to the Culture page of our website. People visit this page when they’re thinking about applying for a job here, so this small change could punch above its weight in the area of recruitment.
- Since we’ve had job vacancies recently, we’ve been able to put in practice plans to place job adverts strategically so that a wider diversity of candidates will see them.
- All line managers will have taken ACAS training on Equality and Diversity by the end of the year.
- New methods in our product development, like ‘consequence scanning‘, should help us to foresee any biases or unforeseen results of service features before we launch them.
- We’ve created a staff ‘anti racism and diversity’ reading list, purchased digital copies that any staff member can access, and suggested which books people might like to begin with.
- We ran a workshop on power and privilege at our last team meeting.
- We have plans to amend the terms and conditions on WriteToThem and other mySociety services to better prevent their use for hate speech and other abuse.
- We’ve researched best practice in terms of style and vocabulary, and added them to our inhouse style guide.
Over the next few months, we’ll be kicking off a research programme to dig more deeply into the question: what types of services are useful to marginalised groups? This will inform us in future development, and we’ll also be able to share the findings so that others can learn from them too.
This may be the trigger for an annual piece of research in which we examine who’s using our services, what for, and the impact they’re having.
We also want to understand how we can best provide support to groups who want to use our services to campaign around race, racism and structural inequalities in the UK.
That’s how far we’ve come in the first three months. To some extent, we’re feeling our way, as we’re not experts in this field.
This work involves many difficult conversations, but they are the conversations that need to be had, and we know that they will slowly result in a better organisation for everyone. We appreciate that, for some, this work is coming late and seems like little. And to you we want to say, we’re trying to do better, and we will keep on trying.
Image: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona